Tag Archives: anime

Channel A Returns!

Back in 2012 I designed my first ever card game, Channel A: The Anime Pitch Party Game. In 2013 Asmadi Games published it, bringing it to Kickstarter backers and then game stores. It’s been well-received, but once the original print run sold out, Asmadi was never quite able to get it back in print. While I’m still a fan of Asmadi Games and Chris Cieslik–and the other Asmadi Games offerings are well worth checking out!–I’m very pleased to be able to announce that Evil Hat Productions will be taking up Channel A as part of their line of board games. It’ll be their first real foray into both anime-inspired games and party games, but Channel A still has some heady company given that it’ll be alongside the likes of the Dresden Files Cooperative Board Game.

EHP is launching Channel A with a Kickstarter, and the game is getting an upgrade in the form of new art (by Dawn Davis, the same artist, who has improved her skills considerably over the past 6 years or so) and around 70 new cards (with Clay Gardner doing the logo designs for the new Title Cards). We’re calling this new version the “Alpha Genesis Edition,” and hopefully new and old fans of Channel A will find a lot to like in what we’ve changed and added. (Also: more normal cardstock!)

If you want to give the came a test drive first, Evil Hat has some cool stuff for that:

There are also stretch goals! The first is a set of stickers of chibi characters, and the second is an expansion called “Channel A: Second Season.” And we have more waiting in the wings! Kind of a lot more!

The Evil Hat folks have generally been great to work with, and their huge enthusiasm about the game has been pretty inspiring to me. Fred is a fan of the game and it really shows!

channel a ehp
Continue reading Channel A Returns!

Yet Another Project: Dragon World

I may need to come up with a better name, but I ended up starting up yet another RPG project. I’ve been reading an obscure and in my opinion tragically overlooked manga called Dragon Half. When the renowned warrior Rouce went to slay a dangerous red dragon, he ended up marrying her instead, and the result of their union was Mink, a “dragon half.” She’s ridiculously strong, but all she really wants is to meet the handsome monster hunter/pop idol Dick Saucer. The magna got a 2-episode OAV series, which barely touches on Mink’s grand adventures. (There are, however, scanlations out there…) Webcomic artist Josh Lesnick also cites Dragon Half creator Ryusuke Mita as one of his major influences, and having finally read the manga I can definitely see why.

It occurred to me that Dragon Half is part of a genre of anime/manga, along with titles like Slayers, Maze, Ruin Explorers, and Those Who Hunt Elves, and that I really enjoy that genre. I don’t really go in for the nostalgic lamenting of the current state of the anime industry that’s become so trendy these days, but there is something I miss about the style of anime that made me such a fan back in the 90s. Since I’ve had Apocalypse World on the brain after it helped me get over a major design block with Magical Burst, it occurred to me that I could probably rejigger the basic rules of AW to make a game for that genre. AW’s moves–both player and MC moves–really reinforce the genre, and changing them is a very powerful tool to make a game that does what you want it to. I’ve tentatively titled it “Dragon World.” Thanks to Dragon Quest, in Japan “dragon” strongly evokes Japanese-style Western fantasy, but I already get it mixed up with Dungeon World in my head, so I’m going to be on the lookout for a different title.

Rules-wise I’m probably going to drop the concepts of harm, gear, and barter (i.e., a lot of the stuff that puts the apocalypse-y stuff in AW). I need to explore the idea more, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that rather than having “hit points” or whatever, characters in a very comedic world (whether wacky anime or Looney Tunes) should have more of a threshold before they fall down, after which the scene ends and the action jump-cuts to whatever consequences there are. (Though in Dragon Half if the foe is a disposable monster they’ll often jump cut to Mink and company eating its roasted carcass.) Likewise, gear tends to be part of characters’ overall shtick (like Gourry and his Sword of Light) and money will tend to be ephemeral one way or another (food bills, thievery, etc.).

My tentative list of character types goes:

  • Adorable Mascot (Mappy from Dragon Half)
  • Conniving Thief
  • Dodgy Alchemist
  • Dumb Fighter (Gourry from Slayers)
  • Explosive Mage (Lina Inverse)
  • Half Dragon (Mink)
  • Nutjob Cleric (Amelia from Slayers)
  • Tweaky Shaman (a nuttier version of Fam from Ruin Explorers)
  • Useless Bard (pre-4e stereotypes of D&D bards, and a bit of Lufa from Dragon Half)

The MC moves are especially interesting to work on, since they very directly relate to the flow of the fiction (and I’m going to have to start watching relevant titles with an eye towards how stuff works in terms of moves), so there’s stuff like add silliness and introduce a new version of an old nuisance.

The other thing about AW that’s striking is the sheer economy of it. The rulebook feels like it’s written as though the book is a necessary evil for conveying the game, and it’s very clear that this is the right way to play/run the game. Moves often take up one to three sentences where other games would write them as a paragraph; AW gives an evocative name and the minimum text to tell you what a move does, and continues to the next one. Given my penchant for overwriting my games, the game’s economy of prose may turn out to be a good influence, but time will tell.

Mostly, this is a project that seems like it’ll be really fun to work on and even more fun to play. I started a thread on the AW forums, though the response has been kind of anemic so far, not that I expect a huge overlap between Apocalypse World tinkerers and Slayers fans. Anyway, I just wanted to toss this out there.

Anime Fans and RPGs

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 02:  Nathan Smith looks...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Recently Jake Richmond, Ben Lehman, and some other story gamers from the area went to Kumoricon (a local anime con with attendance of a bit under 5,000) to run various anime-themed RPGs. Ben and Jake have both posted about their experiences, and they’re encouraging to say the least. Between them they ran seven different sessions of a wide range of games–the Atarashi Games line, plus Bliss Stage and Maid RPG–and all were a resounding success. At a relatively small con, and with minimal promotion for their anime RPG track, they still had sessions overflowing with enthusiastic players. Not only that, but these folks were in many ways more open-minded than typical tabletop RPG players. No one was turning their noses up at playing anime maids or Japanese schoolgirls, or at having sexual content in Bliss Stage, much less getting turned off by anime/manga style art.

I haven’t been nearly as ambitious as those folks, but I did run sessions of Maid RPG at FanimeCon and Anime Expo last year, and they were likewise met with enthusiasm. At Fanime, even the guys who came off at first as being run of the mill D&D players jumped into playing maids without any hesitation. One gentleman was already a fan with a copy of the book who’d been talking it up on DeviantArt, and a couple more went ahead and ordered the book online before the con was even over. At Anime Expo I got an enthusiastic group, a first-time role-player, and one guy even went so far as to commission Persona to do a sketch of the PCs.

Interactivity at Anime Cons
There are a lot of different things at work here, which I’m trying to unravel a little. There is a very definite overlap between RPG and anime fandoms, but as is often the case, gamers on the whole are very mixed (and in some cases outright hostile) in terms of their opinions of anime. No game can please everyone of course, but while anime art is a turn-off to many gamers, good anime art is a huge draw for anime fans. Most cons have an Artists Alley where artists have tables to sell prints and commissions and such, and they’re generally packed. At conventions especially, anime fans are always looking for things to do. Every anime con has a big schedule of anime showings, but apart from stuff like the AMV contest, Anime Hell, etc. that you can’t get off of BitTorrent, they aren’t the real draw. Things like karaoke contests, maid cafes, panels, workshops, and, yes, tabletop gaming rooms, are what get people interested.

One major issue I’m pondering in all this is how to go about making things happen. Running games is relatively easy, though even where an anime con has a bustling tabletop gaming room, it’s likely to be dominated by CCG tournaments. The folks who ran games at Kumoricon lamented that they could’ve easily sold 10 or 20 copies of each game if they’d had them, but for the larger cons a dealers room booth costs something like $600 to $1,000. For a smaller con it’d be closer to $200, though I’m not entirely sure how the costs would line up with the money made in either case. I do have a contact with a local anime store that goes to what seems like every con ever (“Didn’t I see you last week in California? Why are you in Texas?”), but I’m not sure that having some Maid RPG books getting lost in a sea of plushies and trading figures would be all that effective. On the other hand, it might be possible to persuade a con to let people sell self-published RPG books through Artist’s Alley, which is dramatically cheaper, but not something I would expect to be able to do consistently, depending on each con’s policies and the attitude of whoever’s running their Artist’s Alley.

Expanding to Other Realms
This is also just one example of how RPGs can potentially reach a new (and more targeted) audience. People were also running games at PAX, and I can’t really think of a nerdy subculture that doesn’t have at least some room for tabletop gaming. The only thing that makes anime fandom a bit different is that in terms of published RPGs it’s one of the more underserved, especially considering just how big it is. Companies are having a hard time monetizing the actual anime content–not a few DVD publishers have closed their doors over the past few years–but sales of just about everything else to do with anime are still relatively strong (even if the state of the economy has been a problem for those dealers like everyone else).

Although this goes without saying, I’m talking about small press/indie RPG stuff here too. I would be more than a little surprised to hear that anime RPGs are catching on so much that Wizards of the Coast needs to take notice, but as I’ve said before, if Maid RPG is any indication, by small press standards a good anime-themed RPG can be a resounding success. Maid RPG’s sales have been competitive with the very top tier of indie RPGs, on par with the likes of Vincent Baker and Evil Hat. While it does have its share of adherents from among the indie gaming crowd, I highly doubt it would’ve been so successful without the anime fandom demographic. On the other hand, that makes me a little nervous in that without anything resembling a marketing plan we’ve still had a hell of a time keeping Maid RPG in stock. While turning a profit, however modest, is nice, not being able to consistently get the books to people who want them just bugs me, and I don’t really feel I have the tools to properly gauge the extent to which addressing this new fanbase will elevate demand. Being able to print books in greater volume has benefits for everyone involved of course (cheaper per-unit cost, and at a certain point traditional rather than POD printing becomes more feasible), but the up-front investment from the publisher can still get impractically large. I know Gregor Hutton has said that it was basically a financially fortunate situation that let him print enough copies of 3:16 to meet the unexpectedly high demand.

Regardless, I definitely intend to work more on promoting the RPGs I like through anime conventions. At the very least, I know for sure that the con closest to me (FanimeCon) has an ambitious tabletop gaming department as a decent number of role-players. Admittedly, my skills and personality are better suited to the writing/translating side of things, but wherever one falls in the equation, there could be exciting times ahead.

In any case, in the near future I’m going to be recording a podcast with Jake Richmond to discuss these issues, his experiences at Kumoricon, and more.

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Thoughts on Anime RPGs

Over the past few days I’ve been working more on Zero Breakers (the tentative title for my fighting shonen manga RPG), though it’s mostly been filling in details I’d already thought of, and occasionally modifying parts to fit together better, so there isn’t a whole lot to post about. Though I did realize that part of what I’m doing with the game is taking stuff I do at the gaming table naturally and codifying it into rules.

I’m sorely tempted to write a lengthy essay on anime RPGs. The main thing is that for various reasons–among them that some people seem to set ridiculously high standards of authenticity–it seems like anime is not treated as just another medium that RPG designers can draw as much or as little inspiration as they want to, when it really should be. It comes back to that thing about how when people use a strict definition of “anime” or “manga” to exclude stuff like Avatar and Dramacon, they’re completely missing out on (1) the quality of the work, and (2) the fact that it does in fact have a lot of what makes the Japanese stuff appealing to people in the first place.

Of course, that’s just my impression from what I see on internet forums, which may or may not have anything to do with reality. The point is that we have insane amounts of anime (and other otaku media) available to us, and more and better techniques of RPG design than ever before, so there are vast stores of possible inspiration that remain untapped. I think this is the real reason why most of my RPG design projects wind up being about Japanese stuff; if people were designing as many games inspired by anime as they did from movies, novels, and comics, half the ideas I have would already have been done.

Here’s a list of every English-language anime-related RPG I know. The thing I notice about them is that there are (1) lots of mecha games, (2) lots of universal systems, and (3) lots of licensed games, and very few of these don’t fit into at least one of those three categories.

  • Teenagers From Outer Space (a.k.a. the stealth Urusei Yatsura RPG)
  • Mekton
  • Project A-ko (Dream Pod 9 did a licensed A-ko RPG)
  • Heavy Gear
  • Jovian Chronicles
  • Bubblegum Crisis (licensed game by R. Talsorian)
  • Armored Trooper Votoms (licensed game by R. Talsorian)
  • Tinker’s Damn (an obscure attempt at a universal anime RPG)
  • BESM
  • Licensed Tri-Stat RPGs include Sailor Moon, Demon City Shinjuku, Dominion Tank Police, Tenchi Muyo!, El Hazard, plus lots and lots of Fan Guides.
  • Dragon Ball Z (licensed RPG by R. Talsorian)
  • HeartQuest, a shoujo manga RPG, powered by Fudge.
  • OVA (A nifty game that IMO does what BESM 1e wanted to do. Unfortunately OVA seems to be kind of floundering right now in terms of follow-up support or even distribution)
  • RandomAnime
  • Panty Explosion (Sort of; it veers more towards the Japanese live action side of things)
  • Bliss Stage

At this point I don’t think anyone really believes that R. Talsorian is ever going to get the Gundam Senki RPG out in English. On the other hand, aside from all of the stuff I’m working on (or failing to work on, as the case may be), there are a couple of games in development that sound really interesting:

I just found out that Matthew Gandy is working on a game called Seiyuu, which as he explains it is something like anime’s answer to Prime Time Adventures.

Christian Griffen’s Anima Prime now has its own site and there’s a PDF of the beta version. I’ll have to read it when I have time, but it is a full 165 pages.

4chan is a place I don’t really recommend you visit, but it does have a “traditional gaming” board, which has produced some interesting projects. One of these is Trigger Discipline (I’ve found some blog posts about it here)/ The idea is that it’s a variant of There Is No Spoon about some kind of over the top giant robot anime, and you have to take the anime studio’s budget for the project into consideration as you do things. There’s also some other project called “necrololis.”